Tag Archives: cabinet politics

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been an interesting week in the news. While the domestic political scene has been dominated by President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, the real issues of health care reform and reforming the U.S. financial regulatory system appear to have fallen by the wayside, at least temporarily.

In news from outside the United States in the last week:

1. George Mitchell, President Barak Obama’s special Middle East envoy, met with Syrian officials on Sunday. Although no specifics of the meeting were reported, it is believed that Mitchell’s visit is part of Obama’s strategy of improving relations with Syria as part of the broader goal of achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The visit was Mitchell’s second trip to Syria in two months.

2. The political situation in Iran appears ready to destabilize, as the government faces both opposition from opposition political parties as well as a standoff between fundamentalist elements within President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s cabinet. On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned opposition leaders that they faced “collapse” if they continued protests over last month’s disputed presidential elections. Last week, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president, lent support to the opposition, speaking at a protest against Ahmadi-Nejad’s re-election. Rafsanjani’s position was closely watched, particularly given his position as head of two powerful conservative bodies in Iran, the expediency council and the experts assembly.

In other developments, over the weekend, President Ahmadi-Nejad fired two cabinet ministers, Hossein Saffar-Harandi, culture minister, and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, intelligence minister. The firings, which are rare in Iranian politics, represent the latest developments in a political standoff between Ahmadi-Nejad and conservative forces in his government. It was reported on Wednesday that four ministers, including the two fired over the weekend, debated the president’s decision to name Esfandir Rahim Mashaei as first vice president. Mashaei is a close ally of the president, but managed to draw the criticism of conservatives when he argued last week that the position of the Iranian government should maintain a friendly disposition towards the Israeli people. After the appointment was made public, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as the country’s supreme leader has the final word in governmental affairs, wrote to Ahmadi-Nejad, urging him to fire Mashaei. Ahmadi-Nejad initially refused, but Mashaei nevertheless stepped down over the weekend.  

3. The International Monetary Fund approved a new $2.6 billion loan for Sri Lanka on Friday. The loan is intended to help Sri Lanka rebuild after its 25 year civil war, which ended several months ago after the government launched a series of attacks which incapacitated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group. Despite the end of the fighting, however, the government continues to hold thousands of ethnic Tamils displaced by the fighting in detention camps. The detention of so many people led some human rights groups to condemn the IMF’s decision, arguing, as Human Rights Watch did, that the loan “is a reward for bad behavior, not an incentive to improve.” The United States and the United Kingdom both abstained from the decision, an unusual move for the two countries which collectively control almost 22 percent of the voting shares in the organization.

4. Government services in townships across South Africa have been disrupted by a strike by municipal workers demanding higher pay. The strike follows weeks of protest by residents of poor black urban areas in South Africa, who are demanding improvement of water and electricity delivery, better government housing, and reductions in corruption. The protests represent the most significant political challenge to President Jacob Zuma’s government, which came to power on the platform of reducing poverty and addressing corruption. Zuma promised last week to crack down on protestors, but such a strategy appears likely to exacerbate the political crisis facing the government.

5. The standoff in Honduras continued to develop last week, as ousted President Manuel Zelaya visited the Honduran border on Friday. Zelaya vowed to return to power and symbolically crossed the border, briefly stepping in to Honduras before quickly stepping back into Nicaragua to avoid arrest. Talks between Zelaya and the interim government of Honduras appeared to break down this week, as both sides have refused to cede any ground on the most fundamental question: who should be president. Meanwhile, western governments have stepped up pressure on the interim government of Honduras. On Monday, the European Union announced it was suspending all aid to Honduras while the United States has suspending military aid to the country and has threatened to suspend economic aid if progress is not made. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, heavily reliant on coffee for export earnings.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It was mostly bad news for the U.S. economy again last week, as official figures show an increase in the unemployment rate to 8.9 percent—the highest level in more than 25 years. Attempting to put a relatively positive spin on the news, President Barack Obama noted that the number of job losses declined in April, marking the smallest monthly loss in almost six months. During that period, a total of 3.94 million jobs have been lost, the largest total on record, exceeding even the number lost during demobilization after the second world war. In the finance sector, stress tests performed by U.S. banking regulators concluded that ten of the country’s largest banks were undercapitalized and require an infusion of at least $75 billion to survive an economic downturn.

In news from outside the United States last week:

1. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez initiated a new round of nationalization in the oil industry, seizing 60 oil service companies, at least a dozen oil rigs, 30 oil terminals, and 300 boats. Chávez announced the move during a visit to the country’s main oil producing region, stating, “To God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Today we also say: to the people what is the people’s.” Venezuela is home to the world’s second largest oil reserves, with 172 billion barrels of proven reserves. But PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, has suffered serious losses in recent years as a result of declining oil prices and a shortage of hard currency. Analysts expect global oil prices to increase next week on the news.

2. Jacob Zuma was sworn in as the third president of post-apartheid South Africa last week, following the ANC’s victory in nation-wide elections late last month. After taking formal control of the government on Saturday, Zuma announced a cabinet reshuffle intended to placate weary business interests. South African businesses had feared that Zuma’s election might result in a political shift to the populist left. But in promoting former finance minister and key Mbeki ally Trevor Manuel to the powerful position overseeing central planning, Zuma seems to be demonstrating his interest in maintaining a positive relationship with the center-right wing of the African National Congress.

3. Experts are warning that the German welfare state could collapse this year as a result of the continuing economic crisis and poor economic measures by the government. In a move criticized by economists last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel de-linked increases in pension payments with the prevailing national wage rate. Legislation passed by the ruling party and signed into law by Merkel last week prohibits future cuts to pension rates. Economists have criticized the move as an attempt to appease retired voters ahead of a general election scheduled for September. Germany is in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, raising concerns about political stability and economic growth.

4. Next month’s presidential elections in Iran will be contested by four candidates. In addition to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, who is seeking re-election, the Guardian Council is expected to approve three other candidates as meeting the qualifications to stand for office: a strong educational and political background and a proven commitment to the Islamic regime and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The three other candidates will be: Mir-Hossein Moussavi, a leftist and former prime minister of Iran, Mehdi Karroubi, a noted reformer and former speaker of parliament, and Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the revolutionary guard and noted hardliner.

5. Pakistan’s offensive against Taliban militants in the northern part of the country continued last week. The offensive focused on the Swat valley region, where the government had made a number of concessions to militants last month, including permission to introduce sharia law into the region. Full-scale operations began on Thursday, but the government eased a curfew on the region to permit civilians to flee on Sunday.